By Ernesto Perez Castillo (Progreso Weekly)
HAVANA TIMES – A Cuban dreams of someday getting on an airplane, and fleas dream of buying themselves a dog. And, although you might think it impossible, the flea may achieve his dream before and more cheaply than the Cuban. Because the fancy flea’s whim may not be feasible, but the Cuban’s dream is, at the very least, unaffordable.
Starting at the end, not the beginning, one needs a visa that allows you to cross the kingdom of the heavens, and that visa to anywhere — and especially since the Cubans rid themselves of the now sadly remembered Exit Permit — is increasingly more complicated, entangled and elusive to obtain.
But that necessary visa is the last link in a long chain of events that doesn’t happen just because… No, because initially the Cuban must get a 30-page blue book — essential, small, three and a half by five inches, with one’s photo in coat and tie and his or her general information. It is called a passport, where the visa is inserted.
Between that visa and that passport, the Cuban will have made one and I don’t know how many photos of this and that size, and he or she will also have filled out all sorts of boring and tiresome forms, all painless and forgettable. But the truly bitter part of this journey is that for starters one has to pay 100 convertible Cuban pesos (100 CUC!). That’s what it costs Cubans [on the Island] to obtain a passport.
Let us suppose that the Cuban in question has been working for the state for a while. Well, he or she is screwed! If he/she is lucky and their salary was raised last year, they are earning around a thousand Cuban pesos. That, as far fetched as it may seem, is not even half of the two thousand five hundred pesos needed to buy the one hundred CUC passport. So to obtain that little blue book, the Cuban must pay every single penny of his or her salary over a two and one-half month period.
Now take for example José, a Spanish citizen, who also lives from what he gets paid for his work. Tell him that if he wants to obtain a passport from the mother country he must pay up front two and a half month’s of his salary. José, who doesn’t earn much and is also a ‘Don Nobody’ just like the Cuban, earns his salary in euros. In other words, José takes home about 1,000 euros a month. How do you think he will react? I wonder. Will he laugh when he realizes that his peninsular passport is going to set him back 2,500 euros…
What is absurd overseas, is proportionally and equally absurd and abusive on this side, on this Island. And even more, because José’s passport, which does NOT cost 2,500 euros, lasts him 10 years, while the Cuban must contribute two and a half months worth of his or her salary for a passport that expires after six years. And worse yet, the Cuban’s passport must be renewed by paying a certain amount every two years.
Seriously, who came up with this idea? And why does something so expensive last for such a short period of time?
As for almost everything else in this world, there is also an explanation for that exaggerated cost for a Cuban passport. Simply put: the Cuban won’t pay for his or her passport, but in the mind of the official who conceived of the idea, behind that Cuban there is someone with lots of money who will pay for the passport and any expenses incurred to get it. And that someone, who lives elsewhere, wherever they may be, will provide the money. That someone is just a cog in that smokeless industry that creates bills from nothing, who insists on the abusive alchemy of turning papers, the stamps required, and the official ink, into gold.
The Cuban then, the one actually working and producing the wealth, becomes just a helpless and useless piece on this board. That person knows how difficult and complicated it will be to get a visa, and also realizes what those 100 convertible Cuban pesos signify. But where the powerful command, everyone takes a step back and allow them to do so. The Cuban knows that… but to dream is a right and has no cost. So the Cuban dreams of getting on that airplane.